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How natural resource management can deliver public and community value

Eleanor Radcliffe and Naomi Mason

Land is our most important natural resource. At a critical time when the emerging value of carbon and natural capital is driving significant changes across our landscapes, we need to understand the opportunities and risks presented by different approaches to natural resource management. This is not least because we need to ensure the public and our communities stand to benefit from changes to the management of our natural resources – such as through emerging natural capital markets. To address this, the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) have been working with the Scottish Land Commission (SLC) since December 2023 to build their understanding of how different governance and finance mechanisms can generate and harness public and community value generated by natural resources.

CLES is the national organisation for local economies and, in our work leading the development of community wealth building (CWB) across the UK, we have observed the transformative potential of different governance mechanisms to help wealth flow within, and benefit, places. As land is one of the five pillars of CWB, interrogating the way that value is created and benefits the public and communities as a result of its management is central to its meaningful implementation.

The research we have been doing for SLC is building an evidence base the Commission can use to explore Scotland’s relationship with natural resource management and its potential to build community wealth. This will include a literature review and case studies focussing on different governance and finance models.

Our initial findings have highlighted the critical relationship between natural resource management, local economies, and the communities who live as part of the landscape. We have also observed that there is a dearth of literature on the role of communities participating in different governance mechanisms, and a lack of clarity as to how value generated by natural resources is distributed within our places and among our people.

The forms of value generated by natural resources vary by nature of the resources themselves (e.g. oil and gas are finite and valued highly whereas natural capital projects may be less likely to generate a direct return on investment as the market is emerging and the value attached is speculative) and the approaches to governance and finance applied to them. Shifts in approaches to natural resource management change the make-up of local economies, and for communities to endorse, and feel connected to, the benefits of different approaches to natural resource management they need to be engaged both in decision-making and to benefit financially from the management of the natural resources in their place.

We are now in the process of delving deeper into six case studies the research has identified from places across Europe which offer insights into different mechanisms which can help to retain value for the public and communities and operate across different scales. They are:

  • Hvide Sande Wind Turbines (Denmark)
  • Metsähallitus (Finland)
  • Eau de Paris (France)
  • Stadtwerke Wolfhagen and BürgerEnergieGenossenschaft Wolfhagen eG (Germany)
  • Government Pension Fund Global (Norway)
  • Shetland Charitable Trust (Scotland)

At a time when Scotland is progressing land reform, deepening its approach to community wealth building, and questioning the future of its delivery of net zero, interrogating how its natural resources can deliver for the public and community is incredibly important. Our research offers a valuable contribution to the wider debate over Scottish land, resources and how these can be owned, managed, and utilised for the good of the public and the community. We are looking forward to discussing this in more detail at the SLC conference on the 13th of June in Aviemore where CLES’s Charlie Murphy will be talking in more depth about the work we have undertaken.

Natural Resource Governance - Case Studies